Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Greensboro Massacre

This flyer announces the November 3, 1979 Death to the Klan march and conference to be held in Greensboro. The events were sponsored by the Workers Viewpoint Organization (later known as the Communist Workers Party) in response to recent overt Ku Klux Klan (KKK) activities held in China Grove, N.C. The march was violently confrontational between the Workers Viewpoint activists and KKK/Nazi members, resulting in the shooting deaths of five anti-Klan protestors. The event is known as the Greensboro Massacre. From Civil Rights Greensboro

Did you know this November is social justice month? "We live in a dangerous time," says the Revolutionary Poetry Brigade, the group that founded the event. The organizers hope to make November "an annual international event exposing the world’s injustices and pointing the way to a transformative future."

In the spirit of social justice month, let us remember the events of November 3, 1979, known today as the Greensboro Massacre. Five protesters from the Communist Workers Party were shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Several of the KKK were charged with the murders, but then acquitted by an all white jury in 1981. Jurors agreed with the defense that the suspects shot in self-defense, according to a Frontline documentary aired in 1983.

The protest was the culmination of attempts by the Communist Workers Party to organize black industrial workers, and bring awareness to rising incidences of brown lung disease and other workplace injuries.

Several of the movement leaders were doctors who left their practices to fight for worker's rights in the textile mills. After failed attempts to dialogue with management, the Community Workers Party sought a new tactic, one that could unite black and white workers. To capitalize on growing animosity toward the Klan in Greensboro, they put out a poster announcing a "Death to the Klan" march on November 3.

"I think the Klan, historically, are cowards," said Nelson Johnson, the poster designer.

They're also cheap, according to former Klan-member turned FBI-informant Edward Dawson, who decided to help the FBI in retribution. Dawson was angry at the Klan for refusing to pay a fine he received in the course of performing Klan-related duties.

"We got five years, one year suspended for five and a $1,000 fine," Dawson told Frontline's James Reston. "And that's what helped irritate me something furious. They refused to pay the fine. We had to pay that out of our pocket."

As a double agent, Dawson made his own posters for the march, ones that had a vision of a lynching and read: "Notice to traitors, Communists, race mixers and Black rioters: Traitors beware! Even now the cross hairs are on the backs of your necks. It's time for old-time justice -- American justice."

Despite the violent nature of these posters, and the information that Dawson provided to law enforcement that the Klan intended to bring guns to the march, local police were absent.  Frontline reported that with the start of the march only a half an hour away, the two tactical squads assigned to the march were given permission to take their lunch break.

"I think that medicine and politics really start from the same place," Dr. Paul Bermazohn, who survived a bullet in his brain on November 3, told Frontline. "If you're concerned about people, it will lead you often into the fields like medicine. Brown lung is really not a disease caused by cotton dust. It's a disease caused by an economic system that puts a priority on profit over people."

The Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark wrote a fabulous '80s-style song about the Greensboro Massacre entitled "88 Seconds." Hear it here!
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Flannery O'Connor

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.